On November 25th, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I had the privilege of participating in Jamaica’s first annual Silent Protest. This demonstration was intended to help break the silence surrounding sexual violence towards women in Jamaica. This is a widespread issue in Jamaica, where one in three women will experience some sort of sexual abuse in their lifetime (Statistic from AIDS Healthcare Foundation Jamaica).
We began the day by gathering together in a local church to briefly hear from the organizers and from a survivor of sexual abuse. We made placards, had lunch, and discussed the demonstration’s itinerary. We began by walking for about 30 minutes while chanting slogans such as BREAK THE SILENCE- END THE VIOLENCE, and blowing whistles that had been distributed to all participants. We then stopped at a busy intersection for an hour to hold up our signs and make our presence known. The idea was to keep silent for an hour. During the hour that we stood in a somewhat chatty unity, many passersby of a variety of ages and genders asked about the slogans on our posters and our purpose of being there. Some nodded in solemn silence, and others were eager to grab a sign and stand with us in solidarity.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation Jamaica and Eve For Life, an organization that primarily works with young mothers living with HIV, organized Break the Silence. Many other Jamaican NGO’s were there in support as well, most of which work with people who are marginalized either because of their gender, sexuality, class, otherwise. These organizations exist to help people who do choose to break the silence in a society that makes it very difficult to do so. Breaking said silence can sometimes result in greater violence (whether it be physical violence, being kicked out of homes, having money withheld by a partner, etc) if resources and organizations are not there to help people out when they do choose to speak up. The various organizations that were present do a wide range of things from providing skills training to marginalized women, to helping LGBTQ people in crisis. It is organizations like these that are crucial, especially when we are urging people to break the silence about violence.
The Silent Protest that I attended was just one of many events worldwide that are happening over the next two weeks for the 16 days of activism against gendered violence.